DACA Teacher Legislation Clears First Hurdle

A committee approved the measure, which would permit DACA recipients to obtain a teaching license.

Ana Rodriguez speaks during the House Education Committee
DACA recipient Ana Rodriguez speaks in favor of HB 1594 during the House Education Committee meeting Mar. 11, 2021.

House Bill 1594 would amend current law to permit Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program recipients to obtain licensure for teaching in Arkansas. Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, presented her bill Thursday to the House Education Committee who unanimously approved the legislation.

HB 1594 is identical to a 2019 law that permits the Arkansas Board of Nursing to grant licenses to DACA recipients. That piece of legislation has had a big impact on the state, Vaught said.

“We didn’t know when we passed that legislation that we would go into a pandemic and how us passing that helped relieve the workforce of our health care system,” she said. 

The 2019 legislation was designed to address the state’s nursing shortage. Likewise, HB 1594 would address a teacher shortage. Under the DACA program, students have legal work authorization and can take the same tests and undergo the same training as their peers, but they cannot get certified due to the language in current laws. Approving the legislation could help create a more diverse atmosphere, which is needed in Arkansas schools, Vaught said. 

“This enhances their experience at school because they have someone that they can look up to and someone they feel comfortable with approaching when they have a need,” she said. 

Ana Rodriguez came to the United States at the age of five and her family settled in southeast Arkansas. After living in the state for nearly 18 years, she considers it home. 

“My experience as an immigrant in Arkansas has been largely shaped by my journey as a student and has fostered a desire in me to pursue a career as an educator,” she said.

In order to pursue a teaching career, Rodriguez and other DACA students in Arkansas must consider moving to other states like Colorado, New Mexico and Texas where they would be permitted to become licensed teachers. 

“HB 1594 would ensure that DACAmented aspiring teachers like me have the option to teach in Arkansas,” Rodriguez said. “This bill will benefit the Arkansas workforce by preventing a loss of potential workers.”

Steve Cole is chancellor at Cossatot Community College of the University of Arkansas where Latinos make up 28 percent of the student population. A third of the school’s nursing students are DACA recipients. Prior to the passage of the DACA nurses legislation, they hardly had any. Approving HB 1549 can help tap into a “very deep well of talent” of current Arkansas students, he said.

“They’re raised here, they’re our students and we get to keep them here and put them in the talent pool not just for nursing, but if this passes, now we can add that to teaching,” Cole said. “And that is how meaningful this bill is not just for our community, but the rest of the state.” 

Eleven people spoke in favor of the bill and no one spoke against it. The legislation received unanimous approval from the committee. It now heads to the full House where it’s expected to be heard Monday afternoon.    

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and a Northwest Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts in Arkansas for nearly 15 years.